Accountability & Hypocrisy, Part 2 – Today’s Budget
Today the legislature is expected to suspend the rules and vote to approve a budget that makes deep cuts into nearly every part of state government except the place that already has a $180 million surplus – the House and Senate. What did you expect?
According to a printout of the budget proposal obtained from the House Democratic Caucus:
• The House takes a cut of just 0.6% ($1,049,000 from a budget of $184,630,000)
• The Senate takes a cut of just 0.1% ($119,000 from a budget of $92,075,000)
• Legislative Service Agencies take a cut of just 1% ($93,000 from a budget of $9,268,000)
• "Legislative Miscellaneous," however, increases by 19.3% ($2,520,000 on top of a $13,053,000 budget for this year).
The increase is due almost entirely to $2.4 million in new spending for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. This commission, consisting of four legislative leaders and a fifth person of their choosing, will re-draw legislative districts in 2011, following this year’s census. Ten years ago, this commission gave PA the second-most-gerrymandered legislative districts in America. Since then, lawmakers have rejected every attempt to improve upon this tawdry performance.
Missed Opportunity for Savings
As the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury revealed, the legislature easily could reduce its budget by at least a$60 million through staff cuts and streamlined operations. Click here for the May 25 edition of DR News.
In fact, with such small cuts to their operations, the House and Senate are on track to increase their surplus from $180 million to more than $200 million by this time next year if they enact any significant reforms recommended by the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury (below). That’s what they did last year, when they over-budgeted for themselves so that they could restore $67 million of the $87 million they spent during the budget impasse. In other words, rather than spending down their surplus, they added to it. And so it continues this year. Click here for an edition of DR News about that.
The Budget Process
No one can be surprised that lawmakers waited until the last possible minute to negotiate the budget and now will suspend the rules to pass it before citizens can object to the most profligate legislature in America feathering their own nests again while others suffer.
In part, this is because the budget process doesn’t apply to them. Each year after the governor presents a proposed budget, lawmakers hold public hearings where cabinet officers and others must defend their budget requests, line item by line item. But there never is a time in the budget process when lawmakers have to discuss and justify their own budgets to the public.
• Why do voters allow the legislature continue to hoard at least $180 million while cutting programs that benefit citizens?
• Why doesn’t the budget of the legislature have to undergo the same scrutiny applied to state agencies in the executive branch?
• What do gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato think of this display of fiscal arrogance and hypocrisy? Will they make budget reform a key part of their campaigns and service in office?
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